When it comes to the lack of diversity in Hollywood, Spike Lee believes that “Hamilton” has the answer. He points to the song, “The Room Where it Happens,” using it as a way to describe the lack of representation in important boardrooms, packed with white men.
“When you deal with diversity and you don’t have anybody in the room who looks like what you’re trying to do, then you have a fiasco like the Pepsi spot,” Lee says about a controversial ad that ran last spring starring Kendall Jenner.
Lee is attending the Cannes Lions advertising conference this week to talk about diversity and creativity in storytelling. Ahead of his presentation, the director of such acclaimed films as “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” sat down with Variety to discuss his thoughts on what’s happening and other hot-button issues.
On advertisers pulling out of the Public Theater because of a Trump-inspired “Julius Caesar”: “Well, it’s their money. I think there’s going to be more things like that happening. It affects art directly. Delta and Bank of America were usual contributors to the Public Theater. With this administration now which has no regard for the arts and wants to get rid of any National Endowment for the Arts, all that stuff, it’s going to be more difficult for arts. Also, artists are going to start thinking, ‘If I do this, I won’t get money.’ That affects art too. It’s a very dangerous time we live in today. I don’t think this present administration has any idea what humanity is.”
On the controversial Pepsi ad: “It was horrible. The pregnant woman in Seattle got shot the other day. Philando [Castile], the whole world saw him get killed on Facebook, and the cop walked, and Pepsi did something like [that]. Don’t get me started. That was a complete appropriation of Black Lives Matter, and Black Lives Matter is not a joke. Black people getting shot down left and right, and cops are walking and they are going to make a commercial out of that?”
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On #OscarsSoWhite: “Every 10 years, black people win a lot of Oscars. And then we read articles in Variety magazine and others, the black audience has been discovered. It’s a renaissance then there’s another nine years of drought. It should be constant. I will put my money on this. The reason why what happened at the Oscars this year was because the year before was #OscarsSoWhite. That was a bad look for the Academy. And they had to switch up, get more inclusion, get more people, try to get more diversity among the voting members. But what happened this past Oscars, you think that’s going to happen [next] year?”
On why diversity in story telling is important: “There’s been several studies that show the more diverse your business is, the more profitable it is. You’d think that would be the No. 1 incentive. We have to be in the room, when they have these meetings, where they decided what films are going to get made. To me, that’s where the power is. And I think diversity is the way to go. It’s not Spike Lee saying it. The U.S. Census Bureau has said that by 2040, white America is going to be in the minority.”
On if Bernie Sanders should run in 2020: “Shoot, I hope this nuclear code doesn’t get punched. I’m not thinking about 2020. Look, you got Putin. You got the other crazy guy in North Korea and this other crazy guy, Agent Orange. That’s not a good trio for me, my children, for the world.”
If Trump will be impeached: “Who knows what’s going to happen? When your lawyer gets a lawyer—oh boy, I’ve never heard of that! I travel a lot. People are laughing all over the world at the United States. You go around the world saying you’re the beacon of democracy, what happened? WTF? But I really think what we have now is a reaction to eight years of Obama. That’s my opinion. So we got this secret health care bill where no one knows what’s happening.”